[Movie Review] La Chiesa/ The Church (1989) ★★★★☆

Lisa in the basement of the church in The Church 1989

The Church rings in an occult hallucinatory monstrous evil.

The Church (La Chiesa) is an Italian supernatural occult horror film with enthralling cinematography, enchanting music, devilish visions and hallucinations and an intriguing second act. It has an interesting structure which begins with two main characters but who become supporting characters in the occult events that follow. 

The film stands out above other occult films for the unconventional way the story is told, which takes place within a cathedral. While the first act is a mystery that is very intriguing and ominous, the second part of the film is a monstrous gem full of strange visions, gruesome deaths, people acting very weirdly and various people trapped in the church who all play a part in these events. 


A gothic cathedral in a German City has a sinister origin, unknown by Evan the new librarian and Lisa the restorator of a devilish looking fresco. Nor do Father Gus, the sacristan and his wife and daughter Lotte know anything about its gruesome history. But the bishop knows something and researches ancient scrolls. 

When Evan discovers a big cross on the floor of the basement and a mask with seven eyes just like in the books he studied, he lets something horrible loose in the church, making all those who are inside victims of a terrible evil. 

Why you should watch it

The film has a gruesome beginning sited in the Dark Ages when Teutonic Knights massacred a whole village in a brutal way. They built the church on top of this mass grave and nothing good can come of that. Whether these villagers were devil worshippers or not, evil brings more evil, as some ill-fated people soon will discover centuries later. 

The beginning of this film is very nicely done, with lots of mystery surrounding the church. There are a couple of main characters. Evan and Lisa who at their first meeting seem to really like each other. A disobeying teenager called Lotte who sneaks out the church every night through a hidden passage to party in the city. And a bishop who acts suspiciously.

You might thinks these characters are the protagonists, our soon to be heroes to fight demonic evil. But the film has some nice surprises. Firstly the story takes an unexpected turn. Secondly the hero(es) are not the ones you think they’ll be. And finally the ending has a very supernatural mysterious vibe.

Asides from the original structure, expect lots of dark humor, bloody deaths, monstrous visions, devilish hallucinations, creepy cinematography and ominous music that all-together creates a foreboding atmosphere. The practical effects are very well-done, and give a sinister feel to the film, while making it somewhat weird as well. 

The music by Philip Glass is an extra treat and gives it that churchy vibe, making it even more occult. If you like mystery, occult history, alchemists, crusaders, secret contraptions, catacombs, the supernatural and people getting crazy possessed, then you shouldn’t miss this one.

My favorite part

While I liked the first part, which has a strong buildup and keeps you interested, the second part is a real treat. Asides from Father Gus, the bishop, Evan, Lisa and the sacristan Heinrich there are more people trapped inside the church as the contraption is set in motion. 

A bridal photoshoot and its entourage, a school class, a young bickering couple and an elderly couple are also trapped inside. It’s fun to see that the film chooses to follow them and Father Gus, instead of Evan and Lisa, who played out their parts while causing all of this evil mess. 

The bickering couple risks the catacombs for a way out, while the elderly couple climbs all the way up to the belfry to chime the bells for help. The telephone is out of order, of course. The children are bored or are playing and the teacher is having a panic attack. 

But the most fun of all is the model in her wedding gown that got trapped between the enormous church doors, pressing her to the doors. While the groom model is hallucinating and is seeing some crazy scary things, the sacristan goes deadly insane and the old woman goes crazy in the bell tower, while her husband loses his head. It is crazy campy fun and disturbingly scary at the same time. It goes even more insane from thereon, with an occult ritual taking place in the basement. 

If you’re in for a good time, with dark humor, a well-told story with an unexpected twist, The Church is the one to watch.  


Rating: ★★★★☆

Gruesome factor: ★★★☆☆

Originality factor: ★★★☆☆

Entertainment factor: ★★★★☆

Cast and crew

The Church (La Chiesa) is directed and written by Michele Soavi and cowritten by Dario Argento and Franco Ferrini. It stars Hugh Quarshie (Father Gus), Tomas Arana (Evan), Barbara Cupisti (Lisa), Foedor Chaliapin Jr (the bishop), Asia Argento (Lotte) and John Karlsen (Heinrich).

Duration: 102 minutes. Music: Philip Glass, Keith Emerson, Fabio Pignatelli. Cinematography: Renato Tafuri. Edited by: Franco Fraticelli. Produced by: Dario Argento, Marion Cecchi Gori, Vittorio Cecchi Gori. Production company: ADC, Cecchi Gori, Tiger Cinematografica. Distributed by: Cecchi Gori.

Check the trailer below

Support BHG: